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Matthew Stokes: Dissecting Walt Maddox’s campaign ad

By MATTHEW STOKES, Alabama Daily News Columnist

Democratic nominee for governor Walt Maddox debuted a commercial last week, less than a month to go before the general election. It’s a basic enough ad with the usual politician’s posturing from Maddox. I can’t help but ask though – who is he kidding?  Does this impress anyone? It’s a terribly obvious ad that is devoid of subtlety. To call it on the nose is an understatement.  Let’s take a walk through this.

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We start with a bright, smiling Maddox introducing himself, and very quickly providing us with his age.  He’s forty-five! That’s not a bad thing, I suppose, but I can’t help but notice this is a shot across the bow at incumbent Gov. Kay Ivey.  It is rude to discuss a lady’s age, but we can all surmise that Ivey is not forty-five. It’s a sly suggestion by the boyish Maddox that he’ll remain young and vibrant, whereas Ivey…won’t.  One problem for Maddox is that being young and spry doesn’t offer any indication about the quality of his governance.

Maddox notes that he has served three terms as mayor of Tuscaloosa, and guided the city through the horrific aftermath of the April 27, 2011 tornado.  Kudos to him for that (seriously!), but if you’re looking to thank someone for the growth of Tuscaloosa, you might try the late Mal Moore, Robert Witt or Nick Saban.  (I hear Saban appreciates a packed house at Bryant-Denny.) I spend a lot of time in Tuscaloosa, but I’m not sure it’s significantly better than it was during my undergraduate years at the Capstone.  The Strip is more commercial and anodyne, and the new restaurants and nightspots downtown are merely replacing the old ones that have closed. The bigger question for Tuscaloosa might involve crime and education.  Is the city safer, top to bottom, than it was a decade ago? How is education in Druid City? The public schools located in wealthy neighborhoods are doing fine, relying as they do on human capital. But what would Maddox say about the 2014 piece in the Atlantic concerning the resegregation of Tuscaloosa schools, or that the 2018 US News rankings of the state’s twenty-five best public schools did not include a single school from the city of Tuscaloosa?  Economic development and a vibrant downtown are wonderful, but when the hard work begins, how has Maddox led?

Moving on, Maddox tells us he is both pro-gun and pro-life.  That’s all fine to say, but what on earth does it look like? What sort of pro gun legislation does Maddox support?  Given his support from a young, resurgent progressive movement within the state, I find it hard to imagine he’s going to lead on that issue.  He might bow to a GOP legislature on gun matters, but doing so would betray his own base of support, which foreshadows a very real problem with the rest of his ad.

As for the pro-life declaration, Maddox may well be personally opposed to abortion, and good for him if so. But as a matter of public policy, the question is what measures would he support to protect unborn life? He has already spoken out against this year’s Amendment 2 that aims to ensure the state constitution can’t be used to allow abortion on demand. That’s not a good start. If liberal’s nightmare comes true and the Supreme Court gives states more authority over abortion restrictions, would Gov. Maddox support instituting legal limits on abortions such as a 25-week ban?

Maddox moves on to make us all two promises.  First, he promises that he’ll never lie to the voters of this state.  I hate when politicians make promises, but not because I expect them to break them.  Instead, it is simply because events and circumstances can change. I would much rather a politician promise to work hard in accordance with core principles regardless of circumstance.  That Maddox went straight to the “I’ll never lie” canard betrays a politician’s glad-handing mindset that I would rather do without. Indeed, his pro-life promises look awful weak in light of Planned Parenthood’s support for his candidacy.

Next, Maddox promises that he will never put his party ahead of the state.  That line has been bandied about a lot in recent months, particularly as some anti-Trump Republicans have claimed to put the nation’s institutions above support for the President.  As something of a #NeverTrump conservative, I’m sympathetic to that position. But at the state level, I’m simply not sure what Maddox means. Frankly, I’m not sure he does, either. Could Maddox or any of his supporters give an example of how he would do this?  Or better yet, could Maddox credibly establish some way in which his opponent has failed to do this?

Maddox is propagating a tired but at times effective idea that there remains a “right side” of history that politicians sometimes manage to find but parties want to betray.  This is a silly idea. There is no right side to history, and the idea that an elected official, elected as a party member, is putting his party ahead of the people is ridiculous.  There are times when officials owe us their judgment instead of granting our wishes, and despite our populist moment, we ought to remember that is their duty. Yet Maddox isn’t offering his judgment or wisdom, and I suspect he would not grant either if he we elected.  Instead, he is offering us cliches and rhetoric, and whether that comes from a forty-five year old or not, Alabama needs something more.

Matthew Stokes is a writer living in Birmingham. Follow him on Twitter @yellingstopAL or email him at [email protected].

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